Today, NHS Digital published the findings of a new Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. But what does that mean and is it important? Our director, Carol Povey, explains in the video and blog below.


What is the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey?

It’s a really complicated name, but the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) is a survey that is carried out across England every seven years to estimate how many people have certain conditions. This is also known as the ‘prevalence’ of these conditions. Autism is one of the conditions that they collect information on.

This doesn’t mean that the people the survey found have a diagnosis of autism. They use screening questions - like the Autism Quotient (AQ) 50 and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) - to find people that meet the criteria for autism.

For the last few years, The National Autistic Society has been saying that one in 100 people are autistic. The data from a previous survey, carried out in 2007, was part of that calculation.

What does the new survey say?

The APMS suggests that the prevalence of autism among adults in England remains at about 1%. It also shows that autistic people are less likely than people who are not on the autism spectrum to use mental health services. It doesn’t give reasons for this, but we’ll be raising it with the NHS because we want to make sure that all autistic people are able to get mental health support if they need it.

But it says that prevalence is only 0.8%

The APMS is a survey, which was carried out in 2014. They don’t question everyone in England. Instead, they survey a sample of adults and then apply those findings to the whole adult population. To reflect this, NHS Digital give a range of possibilities – also known as a margin of error. In this case they say the range is 0.5% to 1.3% and that “there was no significant difference between the rates of autism identified in 2007 and 2014.”

It’s also important to remember that this is only a survey of adults and doesn’t include people who live in residential care, nor anyone with learning disabilities too profound to allow them to participate. In comparison, when we say that one in 100 people are autistic, we have included figures from research into those groups too.

Why are prevalence figures important?

Prevalence figures can tell us some things, but they can’t tell us everything. What they do tell us is how many people in England may be identified as autistic if they had a diagnostic assessment. We can use this evidence to campaign for the Government, NHS and councils to make sure services are available for the right number of people.

Our charity speaks to thousands of autistic people each year and know that many people are struggling to get the diagnosis and services they need at the moment.
So, we will carry on campaigning to bring down diagnosis waiting times and for every area to have the services that autistic people need.

Carol Povey, Director of The National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said:

"Today's Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that around 1% of the adult population in England is autistic, reaffirming the findings from the last survey in 2007.

"Clear data is important as it gives our charity and others evidence to campaign for better support and services for autistic people. But it's important to remember that these figures give an estimated prevalence, rather than a precise count. The data was also only taken from adults and does not include people who live in residential care.

"The Government, the NHS and local authorities have a responsibility to the 1 in 100 people who are autistic to make sure they can get an early diagnosis and support. But this isn't happening frequently enough - we still talk to thousands of autistic people and families each year who are in desperate need of help but aren't getting it.

"We need concerted action to improve understanding of autism and public services so that all autistic people can lead fulfilling and rewarding lives."